Earlier this year, I filed a Freedom of Information (FOI) Act request to see the expense records of Collingwood’s Interim CAO for 2015 and 2016 to the end of March. You can read these records by clicking on the links above.
Let me start by saying a few things: first, the interim CAO is paid $225,000 a year – roughly $50,000-$75,000 more than his peers in similar and local municipalities – PLUS, as I understand it, he gets a car allowance paid by taxpayers. This council has twice extended his contract, after secretive backroom discussion among themselves.
Second, the town pays mileage of $0.55/km based on the cost of operating a vehicle: its wear and tear, not simply fuel costs. So when someone claims the full $0.55/km for travel using a vehicle already paid for by the taxpayers through a car allowance, is that double-dipping?
I question both the reason for some of these claims, and the ethics of others. I also question why our council refuses to assume its legislated responsibility to act in an oversight role.*
Unfortunately, most of the entries in these documents are only dry monetary facts, no explanations as to why the interim CAO – who rarely leaves his corner office when in town – has to drive to Hamilton, Toronto, Waterloo or Burlington for something that might have been more efficiently and economically handled by a phone call or email. They were not trips for conferences or workshops. So what were they for?
Who or what is in Burlington that needs the top town official to visit personally and spend a day away from the office? In Hamilton? Toronto? Waterloo? Did any of our councillors go with him (It has been suggested that at least on one occasion, one did… but if so, why? And why was it not made public?)
Effective delegation is a skill top leaders have and must have to be effective in their role. Top leaders don’t spend days driving themselves to meetings a long way out of town instead of dealing with the day-to-day activities they were hired to manage. Is this the best use of time for the top executive? What happens to the rest of staff or to town business on days when he is driving to Burlington or Waterloo?
Why are these meetings more important than attending to the business of the municipality in. town hall? Why can’t he delegate these tasks? What issue could not have been equally handled by a subordinate? Or is there no trust in the staff’s abilities or professional ethics?
As it notes about delegation on the Mindtools website:
Business organizations and teams exist for one reason only: to do jobs that are too large, too complex or too fast-changing for any one individual to do on his or her own.
So why do so many managers within these organizations still try to do everything themselves?
Assigning work to others is an integral part of getting things done efficiently, however many people feel uncomfortable with delegating.
Do you ever say things like these to yourself?
“I’ll do the best job here, so I’ll do it myself.”
“He’ll resent being asked, thinking I should do the work myself.”
“It’s a boring job, so I’ll ‘lead by example’ and do it myself.”
“It’ll be quicker if I do the job myself.”
These are all common reactions to thinking about delegation. However, when you don’t delegate you risk ending up with too much work, not enough time, and lots of undue stress. The belief that you can do it better and faster with fewer mistakes leads to a vicious cycle of too little time and too much to do.
So I wonder what was so critical that the highest-paid senior executive in town has to leave his office and put aside the daily operations of town hall, drive by himself to Waterloo then Burlington then back to Collingwood in a single day (April 28, 2015)? Or drive to Toronto then Hamilton then back in one day (Feb. 20, 2015)? Surely there are more efficient, more economical ways for a $225,000-a-year executive to spend his time!
Many of the items identified as travel and business lunch fail to identify with whom the CAO was meeting or why. Those that do raise some question – not least of all: why is the town paying for all of these? Don’t the others at the table have their own income or expense accounts? Surely someone else can pick up the tab now and then!
Those identified raise other questions. Why, for example, are taxpayers paying for lunches with two local real estate agents who are not the town’s real estate representatives and do not represent any agency or organization with current municipal interests?
And what was involved with a business lunch claim for $88? $91? $70? $62? $51? How many people were involved in these apparently lavish events? Who were they, where was it held and for what purpose are taxpayers paying for these meals? Where is the transparency that lets the public know what our money is being spent on?
Why are taxpayers paying for golf tournament registrations? Aren’t those personal recreational expenses?
Why are taxpayers paying mileage costs for the CAO to go to our own airport? I was on the airport board for four years and never once submitted an expense claim for that travel. Nor do other council representatives claim mileage to our airport, as far as I know. And councillors earn less than a tenth of what we pay the CAO. Is this the financial example councillors are expected to follow?
All public servants, elected or appointed, have a responsibility to the taxpayers to use our money both wisely and ethically. However, as the trial of Mike Duffy and the scandal surrounding other senators has shown, not all those on the public teat behave appropriately with public funds. Thus we need to be vigilant at all levels of government to ensure our tax dollars are wisely spent by all of our civil servants.
Municipal CAOs are similar to CEOs in the private sector, but are unique in that they are answerable – or should be – to both the public and to their councils. The Ontario Municipal Administrators’ Association’s (OMAA) Code of Ethics says:
A Chief Administrative Officer should bring a sense of social responsibility to his/her work, be a custodian of the public trust, and develop his/her ethical competence.
A Chief Administrative Officer should model the conduct he/she wants to see in others.
A Chief Administrative Officer should define his/her values and the behaviors that support those values through abiding by the ethical principles out below.
A Chief Administrative Officer should engage his/her entire organization in defining his/her shared values.
A Chief Administrative Officer should reflect and support organizational ethical values through his/her policies and practices.
It also adds that ethical CAOs should:
- Refrain from all political activities which undermine public confidence in professional administrators. Refrain from participation in the election of the members of the employing legislative body.
- Resist any encroachment on professional responsibilities, believing the member should be free to carry out official policies without interference, and handle each problem without discrimination on the basis of principle and justice.
- Keep the community informed on local government affairs; encourage communication between the citizens and all local government officers; emphasize friendly and courteous service to the public; and seek to improve the quality and image of public service.
- Affirm the dignity and worth of the services rendered by government and maintain a constructive, creative, and practical attitude toward local government affairs and a deep sense of social responsibility as a trusted public servant.
- Seek no favor; believe that personal aggrandizement or profit secured by confidential information or by misuse of public time is dishonest.
These expense reports do not, in my estimation, keep us properly informed or foster trust in our public servants. It makes me wonder if council was adequately informed of these visits and their purpose.
Most important in the OMAA Code – to me – is this:
Recognize that the chief function of local government at all times is to serve the best interests of all of the people.
All the people: not just a select few, not simply those who agree with you. And not to pursue what may be construed as personal agendas. The Municipal Act notes the role of staff:
227. It is the role of the officers and employees of the municipality,
- to implement council’s decisions and establish administrative practices and procedures to carry out council’s decisions;
- to undertake research and provide advice to council on the policies and programs of the municipality; and
- to carry out other duties required under this or any act and other duties assigned by the municipality.
Are these trips implementing council’s decisions? Not based on anything I’ve read or seen in public session.
I’m neither lawyer nor human resources professional (although two of our councillors claim to be), but I question who should oversee these expense claims and mete out the necessary accountability to the public. Clearly not the councillors who twice renewed the interim CAO’s contract instead of saving taxpayers $100-$150,000 to date, yet never did any performance appraisal or analysis of his expenses in all their time in office. The Municipal Act specifies in section 224 that it is the responsibility of elected officials to:
(d.1) to ensure the accountability and transparency of the operations of the municipality, including the activities of the senior management of the municipality.
That section of the Act seems to have been overlooked by our distracted councillors.* Probably too busy feathering their own nests nests to read anything as mundane as the Municipal Act. Besides, accountability and transparency are anathema in their culture of secrecy. And as for their responsibility to actually learn about their roles and responsibilities: don’t make me laugh.*
I believe there has to be more openness and accountability, and that we deserve to know more about these expenses. But I have no confidence that the interests of the public, and our right to openness and accountability will outweigh the self-interests of this council.
* Council’s attitude towards its responsibilities, legal ethical or educational, reminds me of what Euripides wrote in his play Hippolytus:
My tongue swore, but my mind was still unpledged.
In other words, oaths and promises don’t matter, since there was never any intention to live up to them.